W.H.Auden – Age of Anxiety – 2

Continuing with selected readings from W.H.Auden’s The Age of Anxiety

AG: So then they all go home except for the lovers, who wind up in bed. The lady.. takes them… (Rosetta went with them to the elevator. And they wait for it and they go down the elevator and then Rosetta and the girl go back to her apartment to.. finally she’s going to make it with the soldier. They sank from her sight an hour later

“When she got back to her apartment, she found that Embel had gone into her bedroom and passed out . She looked down at him, half relieved, and thought thus ”

And then he gives a very very beautiful melancholy speech -Hebrew in nature, actually. Rosetta, a sharp Jewess from New York, who’s in advertising . Auden who was mixed up in the ‘thirties you know in Germany and mixed up with a lot of Jewish intellectuals – (Berthold) Brecht, Thomas Mann, Elizabeth Mann. So it comes out of that ambience of thirties forties Hitler-time, a kind of prophetic Hebraic..prophecy, coming in this alliterative verse.

“Blind on the bright bed, the bridegroom snores/ Too aloof to love. Did you lose your nerve/And cloud your conscience because I wasn’t/Your dish really? You danced so bravely/Till I wiated I were. Will you remain/Such a pleasant prince? Probably not./But you’re handsome aren’t you? even now/A kingly corpse. I’ll coffin you up till/You rule again. Rest for us both and/Dream, dear one. I’ll be dressed when you wake/To get coffee. You’ll be glad you didn’t /While your heartache lasts, and I won’t shine/In the sobering sun. We’re so apart/When our ways have crossed and our words touched/On Babylon’s banks. You’ll build here, be/Satisfied soon, while I sit waiting/On my light luggage to leave if called/For some new exile, with enough clothes/But no merry maypole.Make your home/With some glowing girl; forget with her what/Happens also. If ever you see/A fuse forming in the far distance, /Lots of police, and a little group/In terrible trouble, don’t try to help/They’d make you mock and you might be ashamed./As long as you live may your lying be/Poetic only, I’d hate you to think/How gentle you feel when you join in/The rowdy cries at Rimmon’s party/ “- Fasten your fig leaf, the Fleet is in/Caesar is sitting in solemn thought,/Do not disturb. I’m dying tonight with/The tragic poets -” for you’ll trust them all/Be at home in there where a host of creatures/Shot or squashed, have insured good luck to/Their bandit bodies, blond mausoleums/Of the inner life. How could I share their/Light elations who belong after/Such hopes end? So be off to the game, dear,/And meet your mischief. I’ll mind the shop./You’ll never notice what’s not for sale/To charming children. Don’t choose to ask me/You’re too late to believe. Your lie is showing./Your creed is creased. But have Christian luck./Your Jesus has wept; you may joke now,/Be spick and span, spell out the bumptious/Morals on monuments, mind your poise/And take up your cross, attract Who’s-Who/Ignore What’s-Not. Niceness is all and/The rest bores. I’m too rude a question./You’d learn to loathe, your legs forget their/Store of proverbs, the staircase wit of/The sleep-walker. You’d slip and blame me/When you came to and couldn’t accept/Our anxious hope with no household god or/Harpist’s Haven for hearty climbers./So fluke through unflustered with full marks in/House-geography; let history be./Time is our trade, to be tense, our gift/Whose woe is our weight; for we are His Chosen,/His ragged remnants with our ripe flesh/And our hats on, sent out of the room/By their dying grandees and doleful slaves,/Kicked in corridors and cold-shouldered/At toll-bridges, teased upon the stage,/Snubbed at sea, to seep through boundaries,/Diffuse like firearms through frightened lands,/Transpose our plight like a poignant theme/Into twenty tongues, time-tormented./But His People still. We’ll point for Him./Be as obvious always if he won’t show/To threaten their thinking in their way,/Nor his strong arm that stood no nonsense,/Fly, let’s face it, to defend us now/When bruised or broiled our bodies are chucked/Like cracked crocks onto kitchen middens/In the time He takes. We’ll trust. He’ll slay/If his Wisdom will. He won’t alter/Nor fake one fact. Though I fly to Wall Street/Or Publisher’s Row, or pass out, or/Submerge in music, or marry well/Marooned on riches. He’ll be right there/With his Eye upon me. Should I hide away/My secret sins in consulting rooms,/My fears are before Him; He’ll find all,/Conceal from Him the semidetached/Brick villa in Laburnum Crescent,/The poky parlor, the pink bows on /The landing-curtains, or the lawn-mower/That wouldn’t work, for He won’t pretend to/Forget how I began, nor grant belief/In the mythological scenes I make up/Of a home like theirs, the Innocent Place where/His Law can’t look, the leaves are so thick./I’ve made their magic but their Momma Earth/Is His stone still, and their stately groves,/Though I wished to worship, His wood to me./More boys like this one may embrace me yet/I shan’t find shelter, I shan’t be at peace/Till I really take your restless hands,/My poor fat father. How appalling was/Your taste in ties. How you tried to have fun./You so longed to be liked. You lied so,/Didn’t you, dad? When the doll never came,/When mother was sick and the maid laughed/ – Yes I heard you in the attic. At her grave you/Wept and wilted. Was that why you chose/So blatant a voice, such button eyes/To play house with you then? Did you ever love/Stepmother Stupid? You’d a strange look,/Sad as the sea, when she searched your clothes./Don’t be cruel and cry. I couldn’t stay to /Be your baby. We both were asking/For a warmth there wasn’t, and then wouldn’t write/We musn’t, must we? Moses will scold if /We’re not all there for the next meeting/At some brackish well or broken arch,/Tired as we are. We must try to get on /Though mobs run amok and markets fall/Though lights burn late at police stations,/ Though passports expire and ports are watched/Though thousands tumble. Must their blue glare/Outlast the lions? Who’ll be left to see it /Disconcerted? I’ll be dumb before/ The barracks burn and boisterous Pharaoh/Grow ashamed and shy. Sh’ma Yisra’el,/ ‘donai lohenu ‘donai echad.

AG: It’s very Jewish. It’s very – huh?

Peter Orlovsky: What was the name of that again?

AG: Well, the whole thing is The Age of Anxiety and it is the last speech by “Rosetta” on page three-hundred-and-forty four – page three-hundred-and-forty-four to three-hundred- and-forty-seven – That’s World War II – Hitler -World War II -“Though mobs run amok and markets fall/Though lights burn late at police stations,/ Though passports expire and ports are watched/Though thousands tumble. Must their blue glare/Outlast the lions?”
– a really wild moment

So Rosetta’s speech (there’s a last speech) and that’s all done alliterative. It’s amazing what can be done with that. He was a very great poet, Auden – like I guess, since Tennyson, or Swinburne, one of the few English poets that had a fantastic range and command of all varieties of English prosody that we were talking about (He also, incidentally, edited a really interesting selection of Tennyson, who was also quite a prosodist, quite a good… actually, the key is having a recollection of quantity (the length of vowels) and classical meters.
There is a final speech in here but I think that was about the best. So I would recommend that, if you ever get a chance, and if you’re interested in this kind of alliterative verse, this is… Auden’s “Age if Anxiety” is a whole twentieth-century handbook of how to handle it.

Student: How long is that poem..?

AG: Well, “The Age of Anxiety”, it’s not.. I would say.. (but).. It’s broken into different.. It’s like a play. It’s a play with four characters and a bit of narration, and a little prose front, a little prose front, and it goes, in this book, from three fifty-five.. from two fifty-five to three fifty-three (so it’s a hundred-page poem) – a long long long beautiful thing. It’s really nostalgic to me now because it’s really New York during, and right after, the War – the bar-life, the gay scene there, sophisticated, urbane babblers.. urbane babblers in advertising agencies. Very much New York, very much a cosmopolitan New York, with a lot of German refugees and intelligent idiots on the street corners.
Auden had a whole group around him. It was that group around Auden that slowly gave rise to the whole…what’s presently known as the New York intellectual Jewish scene with the New York Review of Books (that was an outgrowth of Auden’s original cultural cultivation, culture that he cultivated, coming over from England and with some past in Germany and Austria – then he went back and died in Austria)

Student: Did he originate the phrase “the age of anxiety”?

AG: Yeah, I think that comes from him. Yeah, that was his bugle-blast. Nineteen forty… or, when was it? (19)40… The Age of Anxiety, I think it was.. I’m not exactly (sure).. it was in the late ‘forties probably.. forty-six or forty-seven? (so it was probably written forty-five-forty-six) – Let’s see if it says (it) here – Well, no, I’d have to look through more carefully to find out when.. It’s quite good, though.

So there is a copy in the library (or several copies).. There’s one I borrowed from the Boulder (Public) Library and I’ll put my own in now in the Naropa library if you want to look through it. If we ever get on to Shakespeare, there’ some very great commentaries on the sea, on The Tempest called The Sea and the Mirror” by Auden (another long poem in here, which was equally celebrated in its time).

So where are we now? I was trying to get on to “Lament For the Makers”, but it’s a bit late for that. So, therefore, as a final thing, let’s try and do the “Lie-Awake Dirge” (“Lyke Wake Dirge“), (that’s also been running through my head – and we never did that as a unison thing) – What page is that on? – Lyke Wake Dirge?

Student: Fifty-nine.

AG: Yeah. I keep hearing it as music over and over again as .. [Allen begins singing] – “This ae night..” – or “This one night..” – “This one night, this one night, every night, and all/Fire and sleet and candle-licht, and Christ receive thy soul” – Anyway, remember “every night..” and “And Christ receive thy soul” to put in that, as part of the.. Don’t forget those.
I’m going to get my own libretto here.. [Allen searches for the poem.. yes, okay.. and then leads the class in a group reading of the poem] – Alright. That’s really good. Those syncopations are amazing,

Student: (It reminded me of “Jingle bells“!)

AG: [Allen sings – and compares – the melody] “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way'”, “This ae night, this ae night, every night and all” – Yeah – What is the next line? – Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…'”?

Students: “Oh what fun it is…”

AG: “Oh what fun it is to ride”, “Fire sleet and candle-licht” – “On a one-horse open sleigh”,
“And Christ receive thy soul”

Student: I thought it sounded better as a dirge.

AG: Well, how would it go as a dirge?
[Student (& AG) recite – “This ae night, this ae night, every night and all/ Fire and sleet and candle-licht, and Christ receive thy soul”

Student: Beautiful!

AG: I keep getting, tho, – pa-pa bom, pa-pa bom, pa-pa bom bom – paa – badda-da pom badda-da-da ba pom pom pom pom ba… You know.. tubas, I keep hearing tubas, tubas and trumpets! – Incidentally Ross (sic) told me that (Bob) Dylan is supposed to be singing in Denver.. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…Well, I send word that we needed tickets for the whole class but I doubt we’ll get them. (So) I’m going to try and go, but I won’t be going Monday, I guess, so I’ll go.. we’ve got a class Monday (if I can get tickets for everybody we’ll go Monday. If not.. tho’ we’re going to have to find some way of notifying everybody, I’ll go Tuesday…

[Allen concludes this class – and previews the next class] – Ok, what are we doing next time. Well, finally, we’ll get onto Dunbar and Skelton, and we may backtrack again to I Sing of A Mayden if you can get the originals, and if we can get a recording of “Piers Plowman”, we’ll have that – And, Kalevala (Kaleva-la) – Kalevala – [class ends] – [tape concludes with the microphone still on, recording ambient room/student sounds]

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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